Read: “In Cold Blood”
January 19, 2013
Posted by on
Truman Capote is a master prose stylist who elevates journalism to high art, making a classic novel of the late 1950s murder of the Clutter family. (I believe the same can be said of Shelby Foote, whose history of the Civil War is as much of a novel as it is a narrative history). The story is not about who did it , we know who pulled the trigger from the get go, but about how they are tracked, put on trial, and executed. Before these dramatic sequences, however, the author paints Western Kansas — and America — in the late 1950s and 60s for us. He does so as majestically as Harper Lee paints rural Alabama during the 1930s in To Kill a Mockingbird.
In Cold Blood is an American Crime and Punishment, but only of a sort. It’s also a profound meditation on capital punishment and the criminal justice system. Perry Smith, the book’s anti-hero, is a sympathetic sociopath who merited life without parole and an education. He says so himself and by the end thoughtful persons must take his pleading seriously, as does his chief pursuer, investigator Alvin Dewey. His partner, Richard Hickock complains that he and Perry did not get the fair trial to which all Americans are entitled. They deserved life in prison; this they would readily admit. Did they deserve to hang?
Read for yourself and decide.